First grand jury term ends on TRMPAC investigation2nd grand jury to hear GOP funds case; DeLay aware of rule on stepping down should he be indicted, aide says
By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News
March 26, 2004
AUSTIN – The grand jury looking at possible illegal corporate spending on behalf of GOP House members ended its term Thursday, but the probe will continue when a new jury is impaneled next month, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, acknowledged there has been some quiet discussion of a rule that would mandate that Mr. DeLay step down as majority leader if he were indicted on a felony charge. But the spokesman said such talk is premature.
The Travis County grand jury has subpoenaed about two dozen people and piles of records in its study of about $2.5 million raised from corporations by two groups in the 2002 House races. It is a felony to use corporate or union contributions to advance a candidacy, although they can be used for a political action committee's administrative expenses.
The investigation could come down to an interpretation of administrative expenses. Prosecutors contend that is rent and utilities, but Texans for a Republican Majority, a group started by Mr. DeLay, has argued that corporate spending is illegal only if used for direct contributions to candidates.
The corporate funds raised by TRMPAC were used for polling, phone banks, fund raising and political consultants. TRMPAC says those count as administrative expenses.
The Texas Association of Business is being investigated for spending $1.9 million from undisclosed corporate donors to target and attack the Democratic candidates in 21 key House races. TAB has argued that the mail-outs were "issue ads" and can't be considered political contributions.
On Thursday, an article in Roll Call said colleagues have discussed the possibility of Mr. DeLay stepping down if he is indicted, as mandated under House Republican Conference rules.
"It would be premature to have any discussions about utilizing that rule, but obviously that rule exists. If it came to that, it would be utilized," DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy said.
Mr. Roy said Mr. DeLay hasn't been asked to testify. "We assume he will be at some point in time," Mr. Roy said.
Staff writer Todd J. Gillman in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.